A Creative Take on Italian

Chef wunderkind Niven Patel takes his culinary genius to a whole new place at Erba


If the trifecta of a superb restaurant is a combination of cuisine, ambiance, and service, then Erba at the LifeTime building on U.S. 1 hits it out of the park. That was the conclusion of Esquire magazine, which recently named Erba one of the “50 Best New Restaurants in America 2023,” and for us, it’s one of the best restaurants in Miami.  

Known for his previous creations of Ghee, Orno, and Mamey, Patel and his partner Mohammed Alkassar decided to enter the fray of the most crowded restaurant category in Coral Gables: Italian. But this is no ordinary Italian restaurant. You’re not going to find spaghetti and meatballs here – though there is one pizza offering. As for the rest, diners should strap on their seatbelts for an exquisite journey into new taste sensations, the hallmark of Chef Patel’s culinary imagination and penchant for blending and contrasting flavors from different global cuisines. 

But first, the ambiance. Entering Erba is like going to a foreign place, in the best possible way. While it is self-styled as Venetian, the impression is more Morocco meets Paris. The elevated 18-foot ceilings, the deep red of the walls, the inlays of dark woodwork – and a glamorous, elevated bar – all speak of an exotic location somewhere else, even sometime else. There is a sense of belle epoque, that this restaurant has been here a long time. The wait staff exudes the same sense of permanence, as though they have been at this job, in this place, for many years. They are adept at that perfect balance between taking care of their customers without being overbearing. They never ask that annoying question “How’s everything so far?” perhaps because they already know.  

Chef Niven Patel enters the Miami Italian dining scene with new tase sensations.

Which brings us to the food. Niven Patel had already created a Coral Gables following with his New American, farm-to-table, woodfired restaurant Orno, and his Caribbean/Indian/South Pacific fusion restaurant Mamey. So, why Italian? “It’s really about just what I like to cook, and my experience in Florence, and my love for making pasta,” says Chef Patel. “Italian food is all about the ingredients, which is my passion. The menu [we designed] is about ingredients first, versus what dish we wanted to create.” 

That is apparent in the mafaldine pasta ($28), which uses a green vermentino pasta coated by diced Bahamian conch with lemon and parsley. Sort of like linguine alle vongole, but more robust and unique in its flavor. Our table could not get over how good it tasted. Or the wahoo crudo ($23), which uses that Pacific (non-Mediterranean) fish in a lovely citron vinaigrette, each slice delicately topped with chopped fresno chilis and tiny bits of orange. Light and wonderful. 

Wahoo crudo—pacific fish in a citron vinaigrette topped with chilis

It’s rare when every dish at a restaurant is a standout, but that’s the case at Erba. The agnolotti pasta ($32), with slow-cooked wagyu beef cheeks, a wine reduction sauce, and pasta pockets filled with robiola cheese and caramelized onions, was a fulsome delight. Even the simple chitarra pasta ($25), with just tomatoes, petite basil, crispy garlic, and olive oil, was mouthwatering – possibly because the tomatoes were fresh Everglade heirlooms that remind you what tomatoes are supposed to taste like. And possibly because, like everything here, the pasta is made on premise; the pasta-making station is part of the show, in an area you pass en route to the restrooms. 

Agnolotti pasta with waygu beef cheeks and caramelized onions

The cacio e pepe pave ($18) meanwhile elevates the humble potato to a divine status (“to get that dish perfect means a lot of thin sliced potato, with rosemary and garlic oil, cooked and pressed and then made crispy,” says Chef Patel). We also tried the mortadella ($22) which was made in-house and served with Sicilian pistachios; the lumachel pasta ($29) with confit rabbit, hen of the woods mushrooms, lemon and oregano; and the Mishimi Reserve Denver Steak ($62) which was served with a bone marrow salsa verde your server funnels onto the sliced meat. All superb.

Cacio e pepe pave—crispy potato with parmigiano and garlic oil

Erba also does a great job with their cocktails (who doesn’t like a classic negroni) and their desserts. Of the latter, make a point of sampling the pistachio gelato ($10), which uses Sicilian pistachios. Like everything on the menu, there is a lightness to the dishes that belies what can be heaviness in Italian cooking. Even their cannoli ($24) are light and crispy.

Gelato made with Sicilian pistachios

“We don’t want you to leave feeling heavy,” says Chef Patel. You will, however, leave feeling fulfilled – and wanting to return, to try all the dishes you couldn’t during your first visit. 

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